We’re closing in quickly on the official reveal of the next Xbox. Microsoft has been playing their cards close to their chest for months, but that hasn’t stopped numerous rumors from piling up. So what’s true and what’s not? We won’t know for sure until Microsoft spills the beans, but we can make some educated guesses based on what we know.
Always Online, Always Connected
One of the earliest and most well-traveled rumors about Microsoft’s next gen console is that it will feature an always online structure. This rumor suggests that the console will require a constant internet connection in order to use the vast majority of its services. A constant internet connection is said to allow the console the ability to search for, download, and install updates in the background at all times, keeping your system completely up to date without interrupting gameplay.
Of course, the negative side of this is that people without a consistent internet access (particularly those living in rural areas) would find the machine almost useless. Even consumers in well-connected areas experience plenty of problems with their internet becoming unreliable from time to time. A lot of potential Nextbox adapters were alarmed at such rumors, and Microsoft Creative Director Adam Orth (recently unemployed) didn’t help matters any by telling them to “deal with it.”
A more recent rumor suggests that single-player games and some features will be available in an offline mode, while other rumors deny the always online concept altogether.
I believe a telling sign in this matter is Microsoft’s choice to equip the Nextbox with 8GB of RAM. Even for a powerful console, that seems excessive for running games. However, if the Nextbox lives up to the rumors of being able to keep itself constantly upgraded in the background without affecting gameplay, you really can’t have too much memory to work with.
In this case, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Unlike the PlayStation 4 (which had its RAM doubled in a surprise move only after reports had surfaced that the Nextbox would have 8GB of RAM), Microsoft’s console was designed from the beginning to have some seriously impressive memory. However, the extremely negative backlash that Microsoft has seen from the always online rumors may have them rethinking their strategy. I believe the Nextbox will be designed with a structure that is meant to be online at all times, but can still run most of its services offline.
Mandatory Installs, Used Games Blocked
Equally controversial, if not moreso, than the always online rumors is talk of system-wide mandatory installs that could lead to the blocking of used games. IGN claims that their sources have confirmed that all games will have to be completely installed on the Nextbox. The report states that the 50GB game disks will be used for distribution only, and that they will not be read during gameplay; all games will be played directly from the hard drive.
The big unanswered question here is whether or not the console will still require you to insert the disk after you’ve installed. It won’t read it, but will it check for it? If not, Microsoft will likely make the disks a one use only item, thus blocking used games. Otherwise one person could buy a game, install it, and then pass it on to an infinite amount of friends to do the same.
This is a case where I believe common sense will prevail. Microsoft knows that blocking used games would be a very unpopular move, and Sony’s President has stated that the PlayStation 4 will not block used games. The combination of these two factors would put Microsoft at quite the disadvantage if they chose to block used games. I’d say the mandatory install rumor could very well be true, but Microsoft will still require you to insert the disk.
The Xbox Mini
Perhaps the most interesting rumor is that Microsoft isn’t preparing to show off one new piece of hardware, but two. According to multiple sources, a new device dubbed “Xbox Mini” will also be revealed soon. This product serves as a standalone device that offers Xbox 360 hardware with capabilities similar to a smart TV.
The Xbox Mini will not have a disk drive, but players will be able to download Xbox 360 games to it. It is rumored that the Nextbox will not be able to play Xbox 360 games, but by connecting it to the Xbox Mini it can achieve backwards compatibility.
This rumor actually seems to make a lot of sense. The Nextbox is expected to extend beyond the realm of a typical gaming machine, but the price tag may be too much for some. If an Xbox Mini can launch at a competitive price to products like Apple TV while playing Xbox 360 games, it could really help Microsoft branch out into that market.
This would effectively extend the usefulness and life of the 360 while the Nextbox gets some momentum built up. There wouldn’t be much purpose in purchasing both products if you already owned an Xbox 360, but the Xbox Mini could be the stepping stone for new customers on their way to eventually buying a Nextbox.